Thursday, June 21, 2007

Leading cities for the Information Age

An article published in an Australian online publication gives a list of the top 10 cities of the world for the Information Age. The criteria that were used to identify the top cities include the existence of affordable broadband infrastructure, technology adoption, government support for technology and wireless Internet access. As ever, it is very difficult to get a clear picture of the indicators used to quantify the performance of each city for any given criterion and also quite difficult to get a feel for the list of cities that were assessed, but still quite interestingly:

  • six out of the ten top "tech capitals" are Asian cities;

  • four out of the top 5 tech capitals are Asian cities;

  • the first European tech-city is Stockholm and ranks 5th in the world;

  • the second European tech-city is Tallin (7th in the world), the capital of a former communist country;

  • the two US cities in the ranking are New-York and the Bay Area, i.e. coastal cities that have generated much of the economic activity in the US since the early 1980s;

  • none of the major European cities (London, Paris, Madrid, Roma, Milan, Berlin, Frankfurt...) is even present in the top-10 digital cities of the world. What does that tell us about the much hyped European initiative decided in Lisbon in 2000? What does it tell us about Europe's future role in the world?

Friday, June 15, 2007

The luxury of "inexpensive"

Going for the inexpensive way of doing things may be a costly option. In fact, inexpensive may be a luxury your business cannot afford. What prompts these lines is a discussion I had this morning with the managing director of a start-up I first met a year ago. Back then the company was in crisis both because one of the founders was about to quit and because there were no business priorities. At least that was my assessment and it was not to the liking of the entrepreneurs. A year later, the company is about to file for bankruptcy and I had a chat with its MD to understand what had happened. Much of the ills of the operation came from its incoherent development strategy and from a less than realistic way of allocating available resources. As an example, I will simply mention the fact that the company attempted to develop markets that were several thousand kilometers aways from its HQ, when all it had was a few thousand Euros of equity and less than 3 FTEs as personnel. Of course, there are many causes for the sorry situation in which that business finds itself today, but what struck me in my chat was a statement made by its MD as he gave be a brief summary of the past 12 months and I quote: "we hired a commercial director basically because he was not too expensive, but he turned out to be a biz dev guy rather than a real sales person". Sometimes, especially when it comes to choosing personnel, the real cost of choosing the candidate who appears to be the most inexpensive is simply too big to bear. Inexpensive is a luxury that no business can afford for mission critical positions. That may be the saddest lesson to be taken from this case and there is also a confirmation: talent is the most critical ingredient of business success, no matter what. However, for talent to have an impact the organization must be able to configure itself so as to assign talent to topics matching real competence and sometimes founders just should not be leading the organization. MD is not an easy job and not a job that should serve as a way for someone to enhance their social position of the perception people may have of them. That's just serving the ego.

Inexpensive is luxury...

Friday, June 8, 2007

Joost's great move

The bold objective of the Venice Project (to bring the best of TV together with the best of the Internet) was promising, especially considering the profiles of the founders. Right from the very first steps of Joost's beta, one could not possibly be anything less than impressed as the quality of the Joost experience is just excellent even though there is still quite some work to be done to boost the amount of content that is available on the platform. In my opinion, the most exciting part of Joost lies in its peer-to-peer nature, which essentially means that it leverages the bandwidth of everyone connected to optimize the delivery of content; there is great business potential on Joost because it addresses all sort of audiences while bridging the gap between the early adopters of innovation and the more conservative segments of the population. But all that is technical in nature and it will not deliver on its promises unless the right people are hired to bring the vision to life and execute the strategy. Execution is everything. So, what better move could Joost possibly do but hire someone with stellar record of strategy formulation and execution to lead the company? So they did, bringing on board ex-Cisco strategy and M&A wizard Mike Volpi. The ability to hire the right people is probably one of those characteristics that are common to all successful entrepreneurs. In fact, hiring properly, growing talent and empowering  people are strategic capabilities for the 21st century.